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Stratfor: Egypt and the Strategic Balance

By George Friedman
Founder, Chief Executive Officer
Stratfor Global Intelligence

Immediately following the declaration of a cease-fire in Gaza, Egypt was plunged into a massive domestic crisis. Mohammed Morsi, elected in the first presidential election after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, passed a decree that would essentially neuter the independent judiciary by placing his executive powers above the high court and proposed changes to the constitution that would institutionalize the Muslim Brotherhood’s power. Following the decree, Morsi’s political opponents launched massive demonstrations that threw Egypt into domestic instability and uncertainty.

In the case of most countries, this would not be a matter of international note. But Egypt is not just another country. It is the largest Arab country and one that has been the traditional center of the Arab world. Equally important, if Egypt’s domestic changes translate into shifts in its foreign policy, it could affect the regional balance of power for decades to come.

Morsi’s Challenge to the Nasserite Model

The Arab Spring was seen by some observers to be a largely secular movement aimed at establishing constitutional democracy. The problem with this theory was that while the demonstrators might have had the strength to force an election, it was not certain that the secular constitutionalists would win it. They didn’t. Morsi is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and while there were numerous claims that he was a moderate member, it was simply not understood that he was a man of conviction and honor and that his membership in the Brotherhood was not casual or frivolous. His intention was to strengthen the role of Islam in Egypt and the control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the various arms of state. His rhetoric, speed and degree of Islamism might have been less extreme than others, but his intent was clear.

The move on the judiciary signaled his intent to begin consolidating power. It galvanized opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included secular constitutionalists, Copts and other groups who formed a coalition that was prepared to take to the streets to oppose his move. What it did not include, or at least did not visibly include through this point, was the Egyptian military, which refused to be drawn in on either side.

The Egyptian military, led by a young army officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, founded the modern Egyptian state when it overthrew the British-supported monarchy in the 1950s. It created a state that was then secular, authoritarian and socialist. It aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union and against the United States through the 1970s. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who was later assassinated by Islamists, shifted Egypt into an alliance with the United States and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

This treaty was the foundation of the regional balance of power until now. The decision to end the state of war with Israel and use Sinai as a demilitarized buffer between the two countries eliminated the threat of nation-to-nation war between Arabs and Israel. Egypt was the most powerful Arab country and its hostility to Israel represented Israel’s greatest threat. By withdrawing from confrontation, the threat to Israel declined dramatically. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon did not represent a significant threat to Israel and could not launch a war that threatened Israel’s survival.

Egypt’s decision to align with the United States and make peace with Israel shaped the regional balance of power in other ways. Syria could no longer depend on Egypt, and ultimately turned to Iran for support. The Arab monarchies that had been under political and at times military pressure from Egypt were relieved of the threat, and the Soviets lost the Egyptian bases that had given them a foothold in the Mediterranean.

The fundamental question in Egypt is whether the election of Morsi represented the end of the regime founded by Nasser or was simply a passing event, with power still in the hands of the military. Morsi has made a move designed to demonstrate his power and to change the way the Egyptian judiciary works. The uprising against this move, while significant, did not seem to have the weight needed either to force Morsi to do more than modify his tactics a bit or to threaten his government. Therefore, it all hangs on whether the military is capable of or interested in intervening.

It is ironic that the demands of the liberals in Egypt should depend on military intervention, and it is unlikely that they will get what they want from the military if it does intervene. But what is clear is that the Muslim Brotherhood is the dominant force in Egypt, that Morsi is very much a member of the Brotherhood and while his tactics might be more deliberate and circumspect than more radical members might want, it is still headed in the same direction.

For the moment, the protesters in the streets do not appear able to force Morsi’s hand, and the military doesn’t seem likely to intervene. If that is true, then Egypt has entered a new domestic era with a range of open foreign policy issues. The first is the future of the treaty with Israel. The issue is not the treaty per se, but the maintenance of Sinai as a buffer. One of the consequences of Mubarak’s ouster has been the partial remilitarization of Sinai by Egypt, with Israel’s uneasy support. Sinai has become a zone in which Islamist radicals are active and launch operations against Israel. The Egyptian military has moved into Sinai to suppress them, which Israel obviously supports. But the Egyptians have also established the principle that while Sinai may be a notional buffer zone, in practice the Egyptian military can be present in and responsible for it. The intent might be one that Israel supports but the outcome could be a Sinai remilitarized by the Egyptians.

A remilitarized Sinai would change the strategic balance, but it would only be the beginning. The Egyptian army uses American equipment and depends on the United States for spare parts, maintenance and training. Its equipment is relatively old and it has not been tested in combat for nearly 40 years. Even if the Egyptian military was in Sinai, it would not pose a significant conventional military threat to Israel in its current form. These things can change, however. The transformation of the Egyptian army between 1967 and 1973 was impressive. The difference is that Egypt had a patron in the Soviet Union then that was prepared to underwrite the cost of the transformation. Today, there is no global power, except the United States, that would be capable of dramatically and systematically upgrading the Egyptian military and financially supporting the country overall. Still, if the Morsi government succeeds in institutionalizing its power and uses that power to change the dynamic of the Sinai buffer, Israel will lose several layers of security.

A New Regional Alignment?

A look at the rest of the region shows that Egypt is by no means the only country of concern for Israel. Syria, for example, has an uprising that, in simple terms, largely consists of Sunnis, many of which are Islamists. That in itself represents a threat to Israel, particularly if the relationship between Syria and Egypt were revived. There is an ideological kinship, and just as Nasserism had an evangelical dimension, wanting to spread pan-Arab ideology throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood has one too. The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood is also the most organized and coherent opposition group in Syria. As Morsi consolidates his power in Egypt, his willingness to engage in foreign adventures, or at least covert support, for like-minded insurgents and regimes could very well increase. At a minimum Israel would have to take this seriously. Similarly, where Gaza was contained not only by Israel but also by pre-Morsi Egypt, Morsi might choose to dramatically change Egypt’s Gaza policy.

Morsi’s rise opens other possibilities as well. Turkey’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party is also engaged in a careful process of reintroducing Islam into a state that was militantly secular. There are fundamental differences between Egypt and Turkey, but there is also much in common. Turkey and Egypt are now engaged in parallel processes designed to create modern countries that recognize their Islamic roots. A Turkish-Egyptian relationship would both undergird the Egyptian regime and create a regional force that could shape the Eastern Mediterranean.

This would, of course, affect American strategy, which as we have said in the past, is now rapidly moving away from excessive involvement in the Middle East. It is not clear how far Morsi would go in breaking with the United States or whether the military would or could draw a line at that point. Egypt is barely skirting economic disaster at the moment because it is receiving a broad range of financial aid from the West. Moving away from the United States would presumably go well beyond military aid and affect these other types of economic assistance.

The fact is that as Egypt gradually evolves, its relationship with the United States might also change. The United States’ relationship with Turkey has changed but has not broken since the Justice and Development Party came to power, with Turkey following a more independent direction. If a similar process occurred in Egypt, the United States would find itself in a very different position in the Eastern Mediterranean, one in which its only ally was Israel, and its relationship with Israel might alienate the critical Turkey-Egypt bloc.

Prior to 1967, the United States was careful not be become overly involved in protecting Israel, leaving that to France. Assuming that this speculation about a shift in Egypt’s strategic posture came to pass, Israel would not be in serious military danger for quite a while, and the United States could view its support to Israel as flexible. The United States could conceivably choose to distance itself from Israel in order to maintain its relationships with Egypt and Turkey. A strategy of selective disengagement and redefined engagement, which appears to be under way in the United States now, could alter relations with Israel.

From an Israeli point of view — it should be remembered that Israel is the dominant power in the region — a shift in Egypt would create significant uncertainty on its frontier. It would now face uncertainty in Egypt, Syria and Lebanon, and while unlikely, the possibility of uncertainty in Jordan. Where previously it faced hostile powers with substantial military capabilities, it would now face weaker powers that are less predictable. However, in an age when Israel’s primary concern is with terrorist actions and uprisings in Gaza and the West Bank, this band of uncertainty would be an incubator of such actions.

The worst-case scenario is the re-emergence of confrontational states on its border, armed with conventional weapons and capable of challenging the Israeli military. That is not an inconceivable evolution but it is not a threat in the near term. The next-worst-case scenario would be the creation of multiple states on Israel’s border prepared to sponsor or at least tolerate Islamist attacks on Israel from their territory and to underwrite uprisings among the Palestinians. The effect would be an extended, wearying test of Israel’s ability to deal with unremitting low-intensity threats from multiple directions.

Conventional war is hard to imagine. It is less difficult to imagine a shift in Egyptian policy that creates a sustained low-intensity conflict not only south of Israel, but also along the entire Israeli periphery as Egypt’s influence is felt. It is fairly clear that Israel has not absorbed the significance of this change or how it will respond. It may well not have a response. But if that were the case, then Israel’s conventional dominance would no longer define the balance of power. And the United States is entering a period of unpredictability in its foreign policy. The entire region becomes unpredictable.

It is not clear that any of this will come to pass. Morsi might not be able to impose his will in the country. He may not survive politically. The Egyptian military might intervene directly or indirectly. There are several hurdles for Morsi to overcome before he controls the country, and his timeline might be extended for implementing changes. But for the moment, Morsi appears in charge, he seems to be weathering the challenges and the army has not moved. Therefore, considering the strategic consequences is appropriate, and those strategic consequences appear substantial.

Egypt and the Strategic Balance is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

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Amnesty from Reason

When it comes to the Middle East, Amnesty International appears not only to be promoting freedom from subjugation but from rationality as well.

Leading the group’s charge toward a brave, new, logic-free future (and possible self-inflicted irrelevance) is Ann Harrison, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, who was quoted yesterday on the group’s website: “The UN Security Council should meet urgently to impose an international arms embargo on Israel, Hamas, and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.”

Absent from this simplistic demand is any recognition of the fact that arms smugglers and state sponsors of terror, like Iran, pay little heed to UN Security Council resolutions, let alone to pronouncements from human rights orgs like Amnesty — unless they’re directed against Israel, of course.

The proposal would be somewhat less ludicrous if Israel faced a threat only from Gaza, but militant groups (most of which aspire to the complete erasure of the Jewish state) are active in every country bordering Israel and receive open or covert support from sympathetic sources worldwide.

Perhaps Ms. Harrison and her colleagues are unfamiliar with this famous quote from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:  “If Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war.”

When it comes to serious statements, elegant simplicity trumps simplistic superficiality every time.
 


 
For a nuanced view of the potential for peace in the Middle East, see the document A Peace of Jerusalem, an evolving, collaborative proposal that we have been proud to host here since 2009.
 

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Remarks by US President Obama to the AIPAC Policy Conference, March 4, 2012, Washington, D.C. (full text)

Text procured here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/03/04/remarks-president-aipac-policy-conference

 


 
The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release
March 04, 2012

Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everyone.

Rosy, thank you for your kind words.  I have never seen Rosy on the basketball court.  I’ll bet it would be a treat.  (Laughter.)  Rosy, you’ve been a dear friend of mine for a long time and a tireless advocate for the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  And as you complete your term as President, I salute your leadership and your commitment.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the board of directors.  As always, I’m glad to see my long-time friends in the Chicago delegation.  (Applause.)  I also want to thank the members of Congress who are with us here today, and who will be speaking to you over the next few days.  You’ve worked hard to maintain the partnership between the United States and Israel.  And I especially want to thank my close friend, and leader of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)

I’m glad that my outstanding young Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, is in the house.  (Applause.)  I understand that Dan is perfecting his Hebrew on his new assignment, and I appreciate his constant outreach to the Israeli people.  And I’m also pleased that we’re joined by so many Israeli officials, including Ambassador Michael Oren.  (Applause.)  And tomorrow, I’m very much looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Netanyahu and his delegation back to the White House.  (Applause.)

Every time I come to AIPAC, I’m especially impressed to see so many young people here.  (Applause.)  You don’t yet get the front seats — I understand.  (Laughter.)  You have to earn that. But students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging deeply in our democratic debate.  You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel.  And you have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to make your own mark on the world.  And for inspiration, you can look to the man who preceded me on this stage, who’s being honored at this conference — my friend, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first world war.  But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people.  (Applause.)  And when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea — toward home.

In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security.  As a member of the Haganah and a member of the Knesset, as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, as a Prime Minister and as President — Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today:  the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.)  But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might — not the other way around.  (Applause.)

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.”  And he has lived those values.  (Applause.)  He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings.  I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example.  And I’m proud to announce that later this spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  (Applause.)

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations.  The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about:  A commitment to human dignity.  A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children.  An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can truly respond to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did.  President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence.  He said, “I had faith in Israel before it was established.  I believe it has a glorious future before it — as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith.  Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share — in security for our communities, prosperity for our people, the new frontiers of science that can light the world. But ultimately it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship.  That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties.  (Applause.)  In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.  (Applause.)

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond.  And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next several days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship.  But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words.  You can look at my deeds.  Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel.  At every crucial juncture — at every fork in the road — we have been there for Israel.  Every single time.  (Applause.)

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct.  It is non-negotiable.”  That belief has guided my actions as President.  The fact is, my administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.  Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer.  (Applause.)  Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust.  Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every single year.  (Applause.)  We are investing in new capabilities.  We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology — the types of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies.  And make no mistake: We will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge — because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.  (Applause.)

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet.  As a senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border.  I visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot.  And that’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes and hospitals and schools in that town and in others.  (Applause.)  Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

And just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we’ve been there through our diplomacy.  When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it.  (Applause.)  When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them.  (Applause.)  When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism.  (Applause.)

When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them.  When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to save them.  (Applause.)  When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them.  (Applause.)  And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.  (Applause.)  So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.  (Applause.)

Which is why, if during this political season — (laughter) — you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.  And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.  America’s national security is too important.  Israel’s security is too important.  (Applause.)

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but rather my administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  So let me say this:  I make no apologies for pursuing peace.  Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace.  Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, President Peres — each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.  I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest.  (Applause.)

The reality that Israel faces — from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment — demands a resolution of this issue.  And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values — because of our shared belief in self-determination, and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.  (Applause.)

Of course, peace is hard to achieve.  There’s a reason why it’s remained elusive for six decades.  The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder — from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt.  And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still — most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not, and cannot, give in to cynicism or despair.  The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less.  And I’ve made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.  (Applause.)  That’s why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt.  That’s why — just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace — we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, and reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.  (Applause.)  And that is why my administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.  (Applause.)

As Rosy noted, last year, I stood before you and pledged that, “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.”  As you know, that pledge has been kept.  (Applause.)  Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns.  I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized.  No American President has made such a clear statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time.  People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one — not before the General Assembly.  (Applause.)

And I must say, there was not a lot of applause.  (Laughter.)  But it was the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  And as a result, today there is no doubt — anywhere in the world — that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy.  (Applause.)  That will be true as we continue our efforts to pursue — in the pursuit of peace.  And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today:  Iran’s nuclear program — a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand:  No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  (Applause.)  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests.  But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.  (Applause.)

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build.  There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.  It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.  It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  And that is what we have done.  (Applause.)

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters.  Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world.  In the region, Iran was ascendant — increasingly popular, and extending its reach.  In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my very first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime:  a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t.  In fact, our policy of engagement — quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime — allowed us to rally the international community as never before, to expose Iran’s intransigence, and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.  Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure.  They did.  And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort.  Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime.  They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011.  Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports.  But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us.  And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today — because of our work.  Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure.  And by the way, the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally — the Assad regime — is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved.  The effective implementation of our policy is not enough — we must accomplish our objective.  (Applause.)  And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program.  Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.  Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July — thanks to our diplomatic coordination — a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold.  (Applause.)  Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice.  But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.  After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.  That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.  (Applause.)  I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I’ve seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who’ve come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency.  And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.  And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically.  Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — (applause) — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.  (Applause.)

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say.  (Applause.)  That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.  (Applause.)

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.  (Applause.)

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world.  Already, there is too much loose talk of war.  Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster.  Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition we have built.  Now is the time to heed the timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt:  Speak softly; carry a big stick.  (Applause.)  And as we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times.  But we’ve been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together.  Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together.  I’m proud to be one of those people.  In the past, I’ve shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me:  the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with President Peres to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched and guided my life.  (Applause.)

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue — no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views.  But we agree on the big things — the things that matter.  And together, we are working to build a better world — one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel.  But I’m also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not his words.”  So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done — to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the people of Israel.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:42 A.M. EST

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Will you still hate me when I’m 64?

(…)

The die has long since been cast; the fight will take place. The Jews with their backs to the sea, fighting for their very homes, with 101 percent morale, will accept no compromise. On the other hand, the Arabs say:

“We shall bring Moslem brigades from Pakistan, we shall lead a religious crusade for all loyal followers of Mohammed, we shall crush forever the invader. Whether it takes three months, three years, or 30, we will carry on the fight. Palestine will be Arab. We shall accept no compromise.”

The United Nations is scoffed at by both sides and the United States will never be able to regain the position of ascendancy she previously enjoyed with the Arab world. She lost the love of the Arabs when she supported partition. She lost their respect when she reversed that decision. She lost it irreparably. For days on end Arab commentators drummed into their people that finally the power of the Arab world had been realized.

(…)

The above is excerpted from the last in a series of four articles written for the Boston Post by Robert F. Kennedy between June 3rd and June 6th, 1948. The complete series can be found here.

Mr. Kennedy would die twenty years (to the day) after he wrote these words, shot by Palestinian Arab Sirhan Bishara Sirhan on the first anniversary of the 1967 Six Day War. 

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MLK

“Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., March 25, 1968, ten days prior to his death

 

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Egyptian turmoil: The Israeli position

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Address delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
February 4, 2011, at the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem

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Yesterday was a dramatic day in our region. Millions of people poured into the streets of Egypt.

President Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 30 years, announced that he will not run in the next presidential elections, and will work to introduce governmental reforms in Egypt.

In Washington, London, Paris and throughout the democratic world, leaders, analysts and researchers spoke about the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring. They spoke about the promise of a new day.

These hopes are understandable.

All those who cherish human liberty, including the people of Israel, are inspired by genuine calls for reform and by the possibility that it will take place.

It is obvious that an Egypt that fully embraces the 21st century and that adopts these reforms would be a source of great hope for the entire world, the region and for us.

In Israel, we know the value of democratic institutions and the significance of liberty. We know the value of independent courts that protect the rights of individuals and the rule of law; we appreciate the value of a free press and of a parliamentary system with a coalition and an opposition.

It is clear that an Egypt that rests on these institutions, an Egypt that is anchored in democratic values, would never be a threat to peace. On the contrary, if we have learned anything from modern history, it is that the stronger the foundations of democracy, the stronger the foundations of peace. Peace among democracies is strong, and democracy strengthens the peace.

One possible scenario, which undoubtedly unites us all, is that these hopes for democracy and a gradual, stable peace process are realized in Egypt.

HOWEVER, THIS is not the only possible scenario. Because far away from Washington, Paris, London – and not so far from Jerusalem – is another capital in which there are hopes.

In this capital, there are leaders who can also see the opportunities that change in Egypt could bring.

They also support the millions who took to the streets.

They too speak about the promise of a new day. But for the people in this capital, the promise of a new day is not in its dawn but in the darkness it can bring.

That capital is Teheran, and I assure you, that the leaders in Iran are not interested in the genuine desires of Egyptians for freedom, liberalization or reform, any more than they were interested in answering similar calls for freedom by the Iranian people, their own people, only 18 months ago…

The Iranian regime is not interested in seeing an Egypt that protects the rights of individuals, women and minorities. They are not interested in an enlightened Egypt that embraces the 21st century. They want an Egypt that returns to the Middle Ages.

They want Egypt to become another Gaza, run by radical forces that oppose everything that the democratic world stands for.

We have two separate worlds here, two opposites, two worldviews: that of the free, democratic world and that of the radical world. Which one of them will prevail in Egypt? The answer to this question is crucial to the future of Egypt, of the region and to our own future here in Israel…

Should the forces that wish to carefully reform and democratize Egypt prevail, I am convinced that such positive change would also buttress a wider Arab-Israeli peace. But we are not there yet.

For over 30 years we have enjoyed peace on two fronts. One is a peaceful border with Egypt, and the second the peaceful border with Jordan… It has changed the world and it has changed the State of Israel. It changed our strategic situation.

That is why preserving the existing peace is vital for us.

We expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. Moreover, we expect the international community to expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace.

This must be clear, along with the discussions about reform and democracy.

We must also humbly recognize the truth – that these immense revolutions, these dramatic changes, this earthquake – none of this is about us. We are in a turbulent situation. In such situations we must look around with our eyes wide open. We must identify things as they are, not as we’d like them to be. We must not try to force reality into a preconceived pattern.

We must accept that a huge change is taking place, and while it is happening – keep a watchful eye.

The basis for our stability and our future, for preserving or extending the peace, especially during unsteady times, is by reinforcing the might of the State of Israel.

That requires security and also for us to be honest with ourselves.

To be honest with ourselves and refrain from self-flagellation on account of the problems we are surrounded with and the changes that are taking place.

It is easy to blame ourselves for these and also for the Palestinian issue.

Because when we blame ourselves, we feel that we are in control, that developments depend on us. Otherwise, there are those who feel helpless when faced with these changes…

I said that we are willing and we want to promote the peace process with the Palestinians.

I have said that the first two components of this peace process are mutual recognition and security. I have said numerous times that we need real security arrangements. Not only because they sustain peace, but also because they ensure our security in the event that peace unravels – and in the Middle East no one can guarantee the survival of any regime.

I HOPE that President Abbas will regard the changes taking place in the region as an opportunity to sit down with us and discuss peace without preconditions, negotiations that take into account changes that will affect Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

I hope President Abbas will join me in a sincere effort to explore the options for a realistic peace with realistic security arrangements needed in the reality in which we find ourselves – for the sake of Israelis and Palestinians and our common future.

In this reality, Israel must fortify its might. We must maintain our security. We must strive for a stable peace with determination, caution, responsibility and, above all, with watchful eyes that recognize reality.

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Mideast: Dec. 8, 2009

Many small waves breaking at the same time. Strong undercurrents…

Lebanon
Israel appears to be moving toward giving up the north-half of the village of Ghajar to Lebanon, probably along with Shebaa Farms. This would effectively mean that no Lebanese territory would then be under Israeli control. (This could have been resolved much sooner, but for disagreements between Lebanon, Syria and the UN as to the true ownership of the lands in question.)

Residents of northern Ghajar who don’t wish to become Lebanese citizens would have the right (as full Israeli citizens) to remain in Israel, though they would have to leave their current homes in the north end of town. Some resettlement funds will probably be allotted by the government.

With the Israeli ‘occupation’ at an end, Hezbollah should stand down, but will they? They have recently deployed thousands of rockets south of the Litani River in direct contravention of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

Syria
Indications seem to be that Syrian President Assad may be prepared to ‘get creative’ on certain issues related to the Golan Heights. (More on that soon…)

Gaza
Israel has notified various embassies that diplomatic visits to the Gaza Strip will not be possible through Israel at this time. While some people will be critical of the move, there’s an easy workaround for the problem — visit Gaza through Egypt instead.

If Hamas will not engage with Israel, then Israel should not be expected to facilitate the diplomatic adventures of Gaza’s overtly-militant Hamas government, which (only this week) tested out some new, sophisticated rockets freshly smuggled into the territory through its extensive tunnel network.

West Bank
As previously disclosed, PA PM Salam Fayyad will be running the show in Ramallah from now on, with PA President Mahmoud Abbas booking off work for an extended vacation.

There’s a distinct possibility that the Americans may be getting ready to hand over control of Palestinian security force training to the Brits and Canadians currently working on that mandate under US General Keith Dayton.

Upshot
The opportunity to achieve a lasting peace between Jewish and Arab Palestinians has rarely, if ever, been nearer. The opportunity to reach a peace deal between Israel and Syria, as well as between Israel and Lebanon, has absolutely never been closer.

But what about the Iranian ‘leadership’? They’re already dealing with fraying public control, a stumbling economy, apocalyptic delusions, looming international sanctions for their nuclear transgressions — and now this? Possible peace? It must be driving them crazy. And that’s the sort of thing that could be dangerous for everyone — if only because they’re the ones supplying the missiles to Hamas and Hezbollah.

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